Ex-CEO Of Largest Swiss Insurer Commits Suicide, Three Years After CFO Hanged Himself

In the latest tragic news from the world of finance, earlier today Zurich Insurance, the largest Swiss insurer which employs 55,000 people and provides general insurance and life insurance products in more than 170 countries, reported that Martin Senn, the company's former chief executive officer who stepped down in a December reshuffle, has committed suicide. He was 59.

Senn had been a long-time employee of the insurer, serving as its chief executive for six years before stepping down in December. 

The family informed Zurich Insurance that Senn had taken his own life on Friday, according to the statement. "We are profoundly shocked by the news of the sudden death," the company said. According to Bloomberg, Senn was found in his holiday house in Klosters, a Swiss ski resort, Blick newspaper reported. The cantonal police of Grisons wouldn’t confirm the death but said officers had been deployed on Friday in connection with Senn.

Former Zurich Ins CEO Martin Senn

Senn started at Zurich in 2006 as CIO and became CEO in 2010. He joined from Switzerland’s biggest life insurer, Swiss Life Holding AG, and held several positions at Credit Suisse Group AG. When he was 26, Senn became treasurer of the Hong Kong branch of Schweizerischer Bankverein, today known as UBS Group AG.

During Senn’s five years as CEO, Zurich Insurance rose about 19 percent and paid out record dividends of 17 Swiss francs a share. In his biggest acquisition, he bought a 51 percent stake in Banco Santander SA’s insurance division for $1.67 billion in 2011.  Senn in December acknowledged “setbacks” in the months before his departure after higher-than-expected claims at the general-insurance unit forced the company to abandon a takeover bid for RSA Insurance Group Plc.

Senn said he was confident that Zurich was well positioned to meet its targets at the time of his resignation, but did acknowledge some "setbacks." The company had been planning a large acquisition of the U.K. insurance firm RSA Group, but the deal was scuppered in September due to a "deterioration in the trading performance of Zurich's general insurance business," according to an RSA statement.

That part of the company's business was under pressure after it was forced to pay out $275 million in claims related to last summer's major port explosion in Tianjin, China. 

According to Bloomberg, Senn’s “conservative approach” helped Zurich Insurance perform well during the financial crisis, when he was the chief investment officer, said Andreas Schaefer, an analyst at Bankhaus Lampe. “Zurich’s asset side never caused any problems and the company did well compared with its peers,” he said. Schaefer has a hold rating on the stock.

Mario Greco, the former CEO of Italy’s Assicurazioni Generali SpA, assumed Senn’s role in March. UBS Group AG CEO Sergio Ermotti was set to take over as president of the chamber of commerce in June.

But what is most shocking about the news is that this is the second high profile suicide of an executive at the Swiss company. Recall that in 2013 Senn oversaw the suicide of none other than the firm's former CFO, Pierre Wauthier, who hanged himself after a spat with then Chairman, and former Deutsche Bank CEO, Josef Ackermann, whom he accused of creating

An investigation by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority later found that Wauthier was under no "undue pressure."

Wauthier's note brought on an ugly episode in which his widow accused the company of creating an unbearable working environment.

As we reported over two years ago, the "widow of former Zurich Insurance CFO Pierre Wauthier said she and her family cannot accept Zurich’s claim that his death wasn’t brought on by undue stress. Switzerland’s biggest insurer said in November that no “undue pressure” was put on Wauthier, who said in a suicide note that then-Chairman Josef Ackermann had created an unbearable working environment. But, his wife is demanding to know why her husband's former boss resigned if he had not accepted blame for the death, and why details of tensions at work were not made public. Her anger is clear, as she blasted "I am not worth talking to... or is it that I would raise unbecoming questions????"

it is not clear who will be blamed for Senn's suicide or if the former CEO left a note; however, one thing is clear - with Europe's NIRP and increasingly more ludicrous monetary policies, many more insurance company CEOs will be departing in the coming years, hopefully in less tragic circumstances.